Policymaking in a democracy by definition involves several actors and in presidential systems, the interactions between the president and the legislature play a leading role in the policymaking process. The key question concerns the ability of a sitting president to pass his legislative agenda through Congress. In the Philippines, the control by a pro-government party or coalition of the legislature is not sufficient to ensure the enactment of the president’s legislative preferences. The weakness of parties and party discipline is behind this political fact.
While the constitution provides for equality between the three branches of government—the executive, legislative and the judiciary—the president actually enjoys first-among-unequals status. He plays a pre-eminent role in setting the policy agenda and formulating policy proposals. Since he is elected by the entire nation constituted as an electoral district, theoretically he enjoys greater distance from particularistic interests and will have a more encompassing (e.g., national rather than local) compared to legislators, especially members of the House.
Furthermore, he is usually held by voters and other interlocutors to be primarily responsible for the country’s conditions and therefore faces incentives to push for public-regarding policy as opposed to private-regarding ones. On the other hand, legislators are more likely to favor private-regarding policy to satisfy specific constituents, political supporters and other narrow interests.
Since the Philippines has a bicameral legislature, will it be correct to say that senators and representatives alike will most likely favor private-regarding policy?
Some observers believe that existing electoral rules tend to make senators more public-regarding compared to
representatives (Eaton 2002). Senators are similarly elected by the nation at large and are therefore similarly distanced as the President from narrowly-defined sets of constituents and favor-seekers. Furthermore, senators are a few steps away from the presidency and will therefore have more interest in more encompassing policy than representatives.
However, electoral rules and incentives also lead one to qualify these propositions about senators. Since senatorial candidates are elected by the entire nation, even those who belong to the same party or coalition slate actually compete with each other since only 12 with the most number of votes will make it. This increases pressure for incumbent senators and senatorial candidates to establish personal reputations to get elected or re-elected.
In this sense, the pressure may be stronger at the senatorial level than at the level of representatives since it is rare for a party to field more than one candidate in a congressional district. Since senators compete in a national electoral arena, they need to establish alliances with local politicians to deliver votes in their favor. For this reason, they similarly try to provide pork barrel and other patronage resources to sub-national politicians. Thus, senators are not necessarily prone to avoid private-regarding policies.
Senatorial rivalry persists inside the Senate especially among those aspiring for the presidency. Those eligible for re-election will behave similarly. For all these reasons, the Senate is bound to be fractionalized and the transactions costs of legislation will increase. To the extent that a Senate fraction provides the swing vote, it is a veto player that could demand side payments.
The Philippine president enjoys a vast array of powers that enables him to influence the policymaking process. Even as head of the executive department, the president has law-making powers, both of the pro-active and reactive kind. Pro-active powers allow the president to establish, or attempt to establish, a new legislative order.
The best example of pro-active power is the power to issue decrees that have the force of law. Reactive powers allow the president to defend the status quo against legislative attempts to change it. The most familiar reactive power is the president’s veto power. The Philippine president’s veto power is enhanced by a relatively strict override proviso—two thirds of all members of each house compared to the US provision of two thirds of a legislative quorum. To date, no presidential veto had been reversed by congressional action.
Given the President’s control over the executive branch of government and its relatively vast resources, he has agenda setting power with respect to legislation. The executive departments have technical superiority over many policy matters relative to the legislature and are usually tasked to draft proposed legislation, which are then sponsored or introduced in Congress by pro-administration solons. The president cannot veto a law passed by Congress if it was previously certified as urgent.
In the Philippine context, the more relevant power that the President has that affects lawmaking is his power over the sources of legislators’ patronage, which is especially important given the candidate-centeredness of Philippine electoral politics. The president controls the release of legislators’ pork barrel funds and can therefore ‘buy’ legislative support for preferred legislation or punish recalcitrant or unsupportive legislators.
In addition to pork barrel funds, other sources of patronage such as the president’s power of appointments and influence over policy implementation and law enforcement can also help influence legislative behavior. The president’s control over patronage resources is especially important to a legislator seeking re-election. For this reason, policy deliberations during periods close to elections enhance presidential bargaining power vis-à-vis the legislature.
However, the legislator seeking re-election will also be the target for ‘bribery’ by special interests to shape policy in their favor in exchange for campaign finance and other considerations.
During the Ramos presidency (1992-1998), the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) was formed by law to facilitate executive-legislative relations and strengthened legislative support for the President’s legislative agenda. The Council is composed of 20 members (including the Vice President, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, seven Cabinet members, three Senators, three Representatives, the president of the League of Provinces, and a representative each of the private business and youth sectors) with the President as chair.
After its initial formation, the Council expanded its membership by inviting all cabinet members and selected legislators from both congressional chambers to attend its weekly meetings. The frequent LEDAC meeting during the Ramos presidency and the establishment of a coalition between the President’s party and the party which controlled the Senate resulted in the passage of key economic reform measures.
The LEDAC meetings also facilitated the management of crisis situations such as when the Supreme Court declared the first version of the Oil Deregulation Law (Republic Act No. 8180) as unconstitutional. The Council was immediately convened and the key technical staff of both legislative chambers was able to immediately draft a new version in response to the Court’s observations. In record time, a new version was approved and passed into law.
In the subsequent administrations, this formal mechanism was used sparingly. President Estrada hated chairing meetings and the LEDAC rarely met during his presidency. President Arroyo preferred the services of House Speaker Jose de Venecia and her political adviser, Gabriel Claudio, whose office supervised the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office (PLLO), to facilitate her government’s relations with Congress. Following the political crisis in July 2005 amidst strong allegations of fraud during the 2004 presidential elections, her relations with the Senate soured as key allies such as Senate President Franklin Drilon deserted her camp and called for her immediate resignation. As a result, the Senate came under the control of opposition senators and had thwarted the passage of budget bills for two years.
From then on, GMA consolidated control of the House after JDV broke ranks with her over the NBN-ZTE broadband scandal and also obtained an ally in Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, who assumed the Senate presidency after a coup unseated Senator Manuel Villar.